How to use the Python min() Function

The min() Function in Python returns the smallest value from an iterable.


Before we look at some examples to demonstrate how this function behaves, let's look at the syntax of min().


The min() Syntax

min() has one required argument, the iterable and two optional arguments, the default value and sort key.


min(iterable[, default=object, key=function])


  • iterable – the iterable to sort.
  • default – a default value to return if the iterable is empty.
  • key – a function to use for sorting the iterable in a different way.


Get Smallest Value in a List in Python

To begin, let's look at how we would use the Python min() function to get the smallest value from a list of integers.


numbers = [2,3,1,6,9,8]

result = min(numbers)



1 is the smallest in the above list and that is indeed what we got back.


Letters also have a hierarchy of value, with A being the lowest and z being the highest (all uppercase letters have a lower value than lowercase ones.)


string = 'Yaz'

result = min(string)



Read more about sorting letters in Python.


Change min() Sort Order

Let's say we have a list of mixed case letters but we don't want to count the case as being a ranking factor. We can use a function inside the key= argument to turn each letter to lowercase before it is evaluated like this:


string = 'Yaz'

result = min(string, key=str.lower)



Get Shortest Element in Python

Another useful way to use the key= argument inside the min() argument is for getting the shortest element in a list by its length like this:


items = ['orange', 'apple', 'strawberry']

shortest = min(items, key=len)